Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo demonstrates flight and re-entry
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo hit another milestone on its way to starting up commercial operations to suborbital space. Space Ship Two's last flight pictures revealed and amazed whole world. The 8 seat spacecraft demonstrated its re-entry "feather" configuration for the first time as Virgin Galactic and builder Scaled Composites work the system through a series of test flights in Mojave, California.
SpaceShipTwo (SS2), named VSS Enterprise, has conducted a total of seven glide tests since its public rollout in December 2009. WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft VMS Eve taking SS2 up to 51,000 feet for release. SS2 then got into a stable glide before going into its re-entry "feather" configuration by rotating the tale section upward to about a 65 degree angle from the center of the aircraft.
The "feather" configuration keeps SS2 stable without spinning as it descends almost vertically, slowed by what the company calls a "shuttlecock-like" drag created by the raised tail section. The first feather test took place for about a minute and a quarter. At around 33,500 feet, the test pilots reconfigured SS2 back to normal glide configuration and executed a normal runway touchdown.
The Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is a suborbital, air-launched spaceplane for carrying space tourists, under development by The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Scaled Composites and the Virgin Group, as part of the Tier 1b program.
SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by the mothership (Scaled Composites White Knight Two) and then launched to fly on into the upper atmosphere powered by a rocket motor before returning to a conventional landing.
The spaceship was officially unveiled to the public on Monday, 7 December 2009, at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California.] The Virgin Galactic spaceline plans to operate a fleet of five of these craft in passenger-carrying private spaceflight service starting no earlier than 2011. The initial ticket price for a suborbital flight will be $200,000 USD.
The SpaceShipTwo project is based in part on technology developed for SpaceShipOne as part of the Scaled Composites Tier One program, funded by Paul Allen. The Spaceship Company licenses this technology from Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a joint venture of Paul Allen and Burt Rutan, the designer of the predecessor technology.
SpaceShipTwo is a low-aspect-ratio spaceplane that will carry passengers to space; the capacity will be eight people: six passengers and two pilots. The apogee of the new craft will be approximately 110 km (68 miles) and in the thermosphere, 10 km (6 miles) higher than both the SpaceShipOne target (though the last flight of the SpaceShipOne reached 112 km), and the Kármán line. SpaceShipTwo will reach 4,200 km/h (2,600 mph), using a single hybrid rocket motor - the RocketMotorTwo. It will launch at 15,200 m (50,000 ft) from its mother ship, White Knight Two, and go supersonic within 8 seconds. After 70 seconds, the rocket motor cuts out and the spacecraft will coast to its peak altitude. SpaceShipTwo's crew cabin is 3.66 m (12 ft) long and 2.28 m (7.5 ft) in diameter. The wing span is 8.23 m (27 ft), the length is 18.29 m (60 ft) and the tail height is 4.57 m (15 ft).
SpaceShipTwo uses a feathered reentry system, feasible due to the low speed of re-entry -- by contrast, space shuttles and other orbital spacecraft re-enter at orbital speeds, closer to 25,000 km/h (16,000 mph), using heat shields. It is designed to reenter the atmosphere at any angle.
SpaceShipTwo will decelerate through the atmosphere, switching to a gliding position at 80,000 ft and will take 25 minutes to glide back to the spaceport. Once the passengers return, their passports will receive a spaceflight stamp and they will be awarded their astronaut wings at an awards ceremony. They will also be able to relive their flight from footage filmed during the spaceflight.
SpaceShipTwo and its new carrier aircraft, White Knight Two, are roughly twice the size of the first generation spacecraft SpaceShipOne and mothership White Knight that won the Ansari X Prize. SpaceShipTwo will have 43 cm and 33 cm (17 and 13 in) diameter windows for the passengers' viewing pleasure, and all seats will recline back during landing to decrease the discomfort of G-forces. Reportedly, the craft can land safely even if a catastrophic failure occurs during flight.